Tag Archive: Citizenship


Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Good news and bad news: Bad news first

As part of the nationwide Republican efforts to undermine public education, Minnesota House Member Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), who is Chair of the House Education Committee, plans to eliminate state funding for programs that promote racial integration in Minnesota schools. The programs, which in Minneapolis provide some $480 per year per student, are intended to close the achievement gap between racial minorities in the classroom. Worse, Garofalo’s plan would re-work the formulae used to determine funding levels in state schools. The results could end up taking money from under-funded schools and give that money to schools that are already well-funded.

MinnPost reports:

Speaker Kurt Zellers said House Republicans are working “hand in glove” on both the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and on a “fundamental change in how we deliver government.”

Republicans highlighted efforts to streamline state agencies, improve the use of technology and consolidate operations, but the only specific figure was a $172 million savings from a proposed 15 percent state workforce reduction.

Indeed. The Republicans in Minnesota, just as in many other states are seeking to end government’s ability to deliver services.

In fact, the Minnesota State Government has published its bi-annual Tax Incidence Report. It reports a heavily regressive tax burden within the state, even when compared with historical averages. According to the report, the effective state tax rate for a member of the top 1% of income earners within Minnesota was 9.7% in 2008. Meanwhile, the effective tax rate for the poor is 32.5%. Hence, the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes.

Yet, the Republicans are also looking to slash funding for the state Medicaid programs, especially programs geared toward the poor and the infirm.

But that is not all. The Republicans are waging all-out war on the poor. Representatitve Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) has introduced a bill that would prevent those who use government assistance EBT cards from withdrawing cash on the cards at ATMs above – get this – $20 per month. The bill, H.F. 171, would also create problems because one of the reasons that people are now able to use the cards to withdraw cash is that many stores are not connected to the state EBT system.

$20 is not even enough to purchase a Minnesota Drivers license (current price – $43). And there are already Republican proposals to require a photo-ID in voting.

In addition, the bill appears to make it illegal for people under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) to carry cash at all! Nor could they put any money into a checking or savings account.

Crooks and Liars relates testimony of Angel Buechner, from the Welfare Rights Committee, referring to the efforts of the Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee:

“We’ll leave you with this. It is not right to punish a whole group because of the supposed actions of a few. You in this room could have a pretty rough time if that was the case. It is not right to stigmatize and dehumanize women living the hard life of trying to raise children while living 60% below the poverty level. It is not right to use racist, bumper-sticker hate to inflict human misery for political gain.”

Where would the sort of thinking that would make it illegal for poor people to carry cash come from? Well, let’s take a look at a Republican strategy meeting that too place at the conservative Hudson Institute to find out. There, National Review editor Kate O’Beirne suggested that the parents of children on school lunch programs were “child abusers”, because they can not afford a meal. “What poor excuse for a parent can not put together a bowl of cereal and a banana?” as she puts it. She argues that despite the fact that more and more families across the nation are finding it difficult to make ends meet (due to conservative economic policies), that there is no national solution to the problem because it is not “in Washington’s interests” to solve the crisis of child poverty. Perhaps that is because for her, national interests are solely geared toward tax cuts for the wealthy and wars abroad to fight over resources.

Republicans discuss public education and decry school lunch programs (Crooks and Liars)

Another panelist at this hearing said that safety in schools could not be guaranteed because, despite the national scope of the problem, it should not fall under the purview of the federal government. Yes, he essentially makes those two very statements one right after the other. That is the sort of callous bastard that is driving the economic and educational policy of the Republican Party right now.

Some good news…

Luckily, the press is beginning to ask some pointed questions, because Republican Party policies are currently being driven by their corporate benefactors who believe that the sole reason for the existence of the government is to load their own coffers. That is precisely why Republicans would begrudge the poor of any money to spend and why they believe that school lunch programs as a waste of money, despite the fact that they have been shown to improve student performance and help to increase upward mobility in society. There is a way to prevent corporations from holding such a grip on the political process that the process would realign itself to work against the interests of citizens.

Minnesota Democrats have introduced bills in the House and the Senate to rectify the problem. The bills, S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 would amend the Minnesota Constitution to define “person” to mean a “natural person”.

The distinction between “person” and “natural person” is vitally important. British common law has always made a distinction between “natural persons” (meaning people) and “artificial persons” (meaning organizations like churchs, businesses, etc.). Well, the Citizens United decision effectively eliminated the many of those distinctions by allowing corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money on elections. And they did. Now we can see how that has effected the political process. We now have people cutting back on schools so that big companies – already earning record profits – can earn more in tax breaks.

Minnesota is no different in this regard than other parts of the country. A recent article by the Star Tribune highlights the largest lobbying efforts in Saint Paul for 2010. More than $3 million in big business lobbying expenses arose that year and $1.8 million (60%) was due to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce alone. Big business is trying to buy the political process.

Author Thom Hartmann discusses corporate personhood (The Daily Take, RT)

So be sure to contact your Minnesota State Senators and House Representatives to give support to S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 in order to help the constitutional amendments to come to fruition. You had better believe that they will meet with strong resistance from the Republicans who currently hold majorities in the House and Senate.

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“They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.”
– Henry A. Wallace

The actions by the Republican Party in Wisconsin since January have been playing out across the country at the same time. In Wisconsin, the attack was led by stripping public unions, the strongest remaining unions, of their right to collectively bargain. Hidden in the budget bill are provisions to sell state assets so that they can be purchased by large companies and their services can be sold back to the state at a higher price. In Michigan, the Republicans are passing unconstitutional laws that can be used to eliminate elected local governments, fire all union staff and give control of the municipality over to large corporations under the guise of a fiscal crisis. Arizona sold their statehouse so that they can rent it for a higher price in perpetuity! The current political instability in the US is due to a coordinated attack on American public institutions and infrastructure by billionaires and the companies that they run. What is playing out is an attempt to replace representative democracy with corporate control of the like we have not seen since the time of the Robber Barrons during the Gilded Age. During the past few evenings, Rachel Maddow has aired a number of pieces that make an excellent primer to what is taking place, who is funding it, and what the outcomes are. These pieces are a must see for anyone in the middle class that cares about their own standard of living, the future for their children, access to education, and the rights of human beings.

Part I: The Koch Brothers – the billionaires who are funding the Tea Party and directing Republican policy.

The Koch Brothers are behind the Tea Party and they are pulling strings, 7 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part II: One of the things that the Right does when they receive hundreds of million dollars from billionaires is to hire people to misinform people on internet discussion sites and to place attack ads on air against popular causes and liberal politicians.

Rachel Maddow discusses Astroturf campaigns, 7 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part III: Despite the fact that all of the Republican Governors and Congressmen claim that the problem is one of fiscal insolvency, the actions that are taking place right now have very little to do with the budget and everything to due with taking political control from the people. All of the fiscal problems in the country are easily fixed by raising taxes on the wealthy (the people who created the problem) and state and national budgets are being used as a ruse.

Rachel Maddow on the Tea Party's use of financial crises to drive draconian legislation, 8 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part IV: Naomi Klein discusses how the Right uses the threat of disaster to gain control all…the…time. She describes how the current state and federal budget crises are no different.

Naomi Klein discusses Disaster Capitalism and Michigan's Financial Emergency Law with Rachel Maddow, 8 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part V: Rachel Maddow announces the Wisconsin State Senate’s illegal vote on collective bargaining rights.

9 March, 2011: Wisconsin Senate illegally votes to remove collective bargaining rights (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part VI: How did this mess all begin? Remember when a group of billionaires collapsed the economy through their own financial irresponsibility and criminal behavior? Well, neither the irresponsibility nor the criminal behavior have stopped, but now the billionaires want control.

We should focus on the people who created the current economic crisis: The billionaires. 9 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part VII: Rachel Maddow announces the new Michigan law that allows the Governor to choose which local governments are in financial crisis… and to pick which corporation can run the town once he invalidates the local elected governments.

A new Michigan law gives the governor the power to overturn local elections and grant control of municipalities to corporations. 9 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part VIII: Michael Moore discusses the pro-labor and pro-democracy movements in Wisconsin and how people can rise up against the class war and the loss of democracy in their own state.

Michael Moore discusses the current attack on the Middle Class and what can be done about it. 9 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Part IX: What is at stake and the need to act to stop the corporate takeover of the country.

Michael Moore: "We can win this, but we have to do something" 9 March, 2011 (The Rachel Maddow Show)

Clarence and Virginia Thomas (credits in photo)

It is now well known that the Governor of Wisconsin has made to demonize teachers and care givers while making the decision to lower their living standards rather than to govern in a way that lifts the living standards of everyone. For those of you who are wondering how the state reached this predicament, we would need to go back to the foundation of the Tea Party with the help of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey.

But that would not be the entire story because the Tea Party needed a little more help to get off the ground. The reason is not that the Tea Party had trouble finding funding because the Koch Brothers have billions. Rather, the trouble was that the Tea Party could not use that money to legally fund campaigns because of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law. So the Koch Brothers,
who hold a gathering of conservative operatives every year, invited Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia to their soirée in 2009.

Well, it just so happened that the Supreme Court was hearing a case around that time, Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission and by an amazing coincidence, that case just happened to deal with campaign finance law! When the Supreme Court Ruling on the case came out, it became clear that it was a bonanza for Corporations. Equating corporate money to “free speech” and a corporation to a person, the majority opinion, written in part by both Scalia and Thomas, ruled that companies could anonymously donate as much money as they wanted to any political candidate. In short, the decision opened the floodgates for corporate money in elections, which was already widely perceived to be a problem – even under McCain-Feingold.

The decision was strongly repudiated by lawyers, elections officials, lawmakers and voting rights advocates alike. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens sharply rebuked the decision:

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

The result of this decision was a resounding victory for Republicans across the country. A huge influx of corporate cash, much of it from unknown donors. Some funds from foreign sources may have been funneled (read: laundered) through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All of this meant a huge cash disadvantage for Democrats around the country.

The corporate money fueled misinformation and attack ads everywhere. It funded smear campaigns by the Chamber of Commerce, who hired a consultant to develop a strategy of hacking Union computer systems, planting false documents and alerting authorities after a false-leak to the “accounting fraud” information they “learned” about their adversaries. But they also set up malware and virus attacks on liberal groups. They also used the campaigns to try to force public policy to accept the outsourcing of jobs that their constituents have profitted heavily from.

These illegal operations took their toll. Russ Feingold, who had spent his career on improving the electoral process and eliminating untoward corporate influence also fell victim as Tea Party candidates, with coffers filled by the Koch Brothers won elections everywhere.
Corporate contributions reached a record $220 million in 2010, effectively throwing the same amount of support as a whole political party behind pro-corporate Republicans. Their agenda was and is about maintaining a corporate stranglehold on elections so that the government becomes a source of funding for entrenched and politically connected companies. Any funding on social programs is therefore inefficient to their ends and must be stopped. That includes Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment, you name it.

It is *only* through this lens that you can understand why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would create a budget deficit to precipitate a false crisis while refusing to raise taxes by $25 per person per year to solve the problem (that is all it would take). The Koch Brothers do not want to pay taxes and they and their news commentators such as Glenn Beck prey on the unassuming sense of fairness of normal people to convince them that raising taxes on the wealthy would be tantamount to theft. This is despite the fact that the world’s third richest man, Warren Buffett, publicly stated that it was wrong for him to pay a lower tax rate than his middle-class secretary. Buffett is diametrically opposed to the Kochs on the taxation issue: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates want to pay more taxes and they think other wealthy people should do the same in order to preserve democracy in the country.

Well, it turns out that this is not even the whole story yet. Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, was a long-time lobbyist for the Heritage Foundation. And the Heritage Foundation was founded by the Koch Brothers! Even more: Clarence Thomas has not reported his wife’s nearly $700,000 per year income on their joint tax filings for several years, likely due to the fact that it is against the Supreme Court Code of Conduct for a Justice to engage in fundraising activities of any sort.

It gets even better: The group Citizens United spent over $100,000 on ads that supported his candidacy for the Supreme Court Bench! His wife also began two groups, Liberty Central and Liberty Consulting, which have profited from the Citizens United Ruling! Hence, Thomas has failed to report several conflicts of interest from which he was required to recuse himself. It may therefore be possible to vacate the Citizens United decision with the help of the Justice Department.

What kind of Justice is Clarence Thomas? Despite the fact that he has not asked a single question in hearings for 5 years now. (Sonja Sotomayor famously asked more questions on her first day of court than Thomas had in his entire time on the bench.) When it came out that Thomas had hidden his ethics violations with tax evasion, he claimed that he made a mistake on his tax forms because did not understand the corresponding tax law. So there you go – he is either corrupt or incompetent or both.

The progressive group, Common Cause is calling for an investigation of Justice Thomas and has filed a bar complaint with the Justice Department. If guilty could conceivably be impeached, though it would only be the second time in U.S. history in which a Supreme Court Justice faced impeachment.

On a lighter note, here is Stephen Colbert’s take on Clarence Thomas’ finances. Enjoy!

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt mentioned Tuesday that work will soon begin on a new national constitution. Efforts continue to encourage protestors back to work. They are now arguing for labor rights and higher pay. After protests were put down by force in Iran, Iranian MPs call for the death penalty for opposition group leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mirhossein Mousavi. This time, the US is strongly and quickly standing behind the protestors. On the other hand, the US reaction is not likely to be as eager in Yemen, where protests have continued into their fifth day. Protestors are not terribly happy about the US-back President, nor are they very happy about the American drone strikes against Yemeni nationals as part of the “War on Terror”. All of the strike activity continues to bring up the question “Where next?” While all eyes are on Pakistan, whose push for nuclear arms gives it one of the larger nuclear arsenals in the world, fears are rising that some nuclear weapons may be lost in this very unstable country. Oh, and one source of angst against the government in Pakistan is its cooperation with the US drone attacks that have led to a large number of civilian deaths. But Democracy is winning the day as protests continue in Baharain, despite the King’s gifting every family in the country with $3,000 to soothe the nerves. Sadly, America finds itself in the ironic situation where it is not the self-avowed bastion of democracy it once claimed itself to be. Perhaps this is a problem with marketing.

Few Americans know very much about the drone strikes in different countries, but it turns out they may not care. Many Americans, including a majority of Republican primary voters are preoccupied with whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. (He is.) Despite the falsity of the claim, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor do not believe it is their job to correct their constituents. This comes even as Republicans plan to attack the 14th Amendment which argues that anyone born on American soil is a US citizen. This seemingly innocuous guarantee prompted an outcry from Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Tx) last summer. On the other hand, they are not very helpful on the economy either. After the Republicans campaigned on jobs, jobs, jobs, John Boehner says that if the proposed draconian cuts to the federal budget cost jobs, “so be it.” The loss of more jobs, would of course limit future federal revenue, creating more budgetary problems in the future.

Despite several costly provisions, the House succeeded on its third attempt in one week to extend several provisions of the PATRIOT Act. 27 Republicans voted against it and 65 Democrats voted for the extension which includes “roving wiretap” court orders and allows authorities to seize “any tangible things” in a search. See how your Representative voted here.

In other portions of the US Government, Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas are taking heat for failing to recuse themselves from apparent conflicts of interest revolving around their involvement with the Koch Brothers prior to the Citizens United ruling last year, in which the two justices argued slavishly in favor of corporate interests such as those of the ultra-libertarian Koch brothers. Clarence Thomas’ wife is also head of a Tea Party group. While many Tea Party groups are financed in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, Clarence Thomas has failed to report income from his wife’s political activities for more than a decade now, prompting the Supreme Court Justice to uncomfortably claim that he did not understand the corresponding tax law when the news became public. Oops.

The US government is asking Twitter to divulge information pertaining to the whereabouts and names of people associated with WikiLeaks in a move that bodes poorly for internet privacy rights. This and other issues related to first amendment rights may be reasons that Julian Assange has brought civil liberties advocate Alan Dershowitz onto his legal defense team.

The New York Stock Exchange is being purchased by the German Börse, all while Republicans across the nation continue to argue against Socialism. Not to worry, the two leading shareholders in the Börse run an American hedge fund. The NYSE is struggling to maintain profitability by leaving retail investments for derivatives trading.

In Space, the probe NExT (formerly Stardust) makes history as it flies past its second comet, Tempel 1. It was first launched toward Comet Wild 2 12 years ago and has very limited fuel remaining onboard.